It's a rare and truly uplifting thing to take a chance on a show when you've heard just a couple songs of a band and read just a bit about their reputation and be completely blown away.
Catfish Vegas, meet Kathleen Edwards.
Since roots rock has always been some of my favorite stuff, it's no surprise that I came away so impressed. I kept coming back to one particular comparison for Edwards' blend of rock, country and folk: Lucinda Williams. I'd read that too, but there's no doubt that Edwards fits into that league. And not just in stylistic terms either, but also in terms of the quality of her songs. Edwards has a tendency to rock out more than Lucinda, and there's an obvious difference between a Canadian and a Southerner, but the two seem to be coming at the music from the same place, in terms of songwriting head-space as well as craft.
Edwards went back and forth between acoustic and electric guitars for the most part, and slung a harmonica around her neck a couple times. It's your basic dust-and-denim rock and in that regard she's not breaking any real new ground. But what matters is the execution and Edwards is near the top.
Her four-piece band is obviously a seasoned and accomplished bunch and hearing guitarist (and husband) Colin Cripps tear through two blistering solos during the encore I was surprised they didn't lean that way a bit more earlier, though his slide guitar work was equally impressive.
Edwards introduced "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory" by talking about a video they just shot, one where her vision trumped the record company's usual reason for shooting a video ("To show that you have boobs"). She was ice-skating with former hockey player Marty McSorley, who's referenced in the lyrics. Reading the song's lyrics online now it's making a lot more sense (hockey references fall kinda flat here in the dusty Mexican borderlands). It's an opposites attract sort of thing, probably better explained by another line: "I'm a Ford Tempo you're a Maserati."
After about eight songs, the rest of her band departed and she took a song by herself on electric guitar ("Mercury," if this show in Kansas City had a similar set list). And there's no doubt she could have held the crowd for the whole show as a solo performer.
Next she switched over to violin for a piano-driven ballad before jumping back into some more rockin' songs.
Later she pleased the crowd by giving props to a trio of Tucson's favorite local music heroes: Howe Gelb, Calexico and Neko Case. Apparently the Calexico folks were down at Hotel Congress earlier in the day filming a video. If these artists she respects and admires all find some reason to reside in Tucson, she said, the city must have something special going for it. And Congress itself earned some praise from Edwards, who called it a "wonderland for musicians" with its combination of a club, hotel, restaurant and coffee shop.
Edwards closed out with the stellar "Cheapest Key" - check out a video of her performing the song on Letterman - and came back out for an encore with another solo tune, this time playing the heartbreaking "Scared At Night" on acoustic guitar. Then two of Edwards' most rocking tunes closed out the night.
For reasons not entirely clear (thought definitely not cleared by me), we live in a world in which Carrie Underwood sells out arenas and Kathleen Edwards plays nightclubs to a couple hundred people at a time. But if the songs keep flowing for Edwards, she'll no doubt have a long and spectacularly acclaimed career. And if she continues to show the exceptional generosity and kindness by meeting with people and signing autographs after the show, she'll have absolutely devoted fans.
Kathleen Edwards - Asking For Flowers (Amazon.com acoustic version)
(It's a free download, but this will save you the hassle).
Edwards is on the Tonight Show on Friday (May 16) and for some tales from the road, check out her blog.